The Great Divide
November 20th, 2016

Fifty years ago I was booted out of a Peace Corps training camp, due to “excessive idealism.” Turns out the Peace Corps is just another government bureaucracy, albeit not nearly as hidebound as, say, the Department of Defense..

Said training camp was situated high on a mountainside above the seaside village of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. On the day of my departure, I was issued airfare back to the states, along with a note from the camp psychiatrist, who had suggested that I seek professional help when I got home. My two friends, Charlie and Mike, were handed similar discharge papers, and away we went—not back to the states but deeper and deeper into the countryside. For days we hitchhiked hither and yon, living off the kindness of strangers. Once, I remember being invited for supper by a poor family whose larder contained only enough arroz con pollo for one. They watched while I ate it.


By and by, we circled back to the capital city of San Juan, where one day I found myself riding in a bus alongside a U.S. serviceman on leave from a nearby military base. He regaled me with stories of multiple disappointments he had suffered in various bars and whorehouses.

“I hate these blankety-blank blanks!”—said he, invoking pretty much all the racial epithets in his limited vocabulary.

“Well,” I interrupted, “I, myself, have been treated very well by the Puerto Ricans I’ve met. And in any case, I’m sure you will agree that you’ve had a better time here than you’re likely to have in Vietnam.”

“Nah,” he replied. “When I get to ‘Nam, at least I can kill somebody and have some blankety-blank fun!”

This conversation came to mind today as I was reflecting upon the recent presidential election, and how far we haven’t come from the so-called “Summer of Love.” In those days, the American public was divided into two distinct groups. Those who supported the War in Vietnam were the hawks; those of us opposed were doves. Thanks to the ongoing War on Terrorism, not to mention the alleged War against Coal and the War on Christmas, the hawks are once again asquawk, their cheerleader a man named Donald Trump, draft dodger and self-proclaimed proud survivor of the Sexual Revolution. Like my seatmate on the bus, he has no kind words for the poor, the oppressed, the educated, the unarmed, the unwhite, the excessively idealistic young riffraff yearning to build bridges between us and the rest of the world. Moreover, his language is just as vile as I remember.

Put another way, I’m a loser—and a sore loser at that. Most days I shelter in place, afraid to leave my bunker lest I be assaulted for being a tree-hugging peacenik married to a Jew—a woman I met, incidentally, in that same Peace Corps training camp. She, too, was rejected due to excessive idealism, although I now sense that she is pretty much over that. For instance, she recently announced that what she wants for her birthday is an assault rifle.

Honestly, I fear for what may lie ahead. What to do? Well, here’s something. If anyone out there knows the whereabouts of Charlie Boss and/or Michael Parsons, please drop me a line. Last time I saw those two, they had traded their tickets to home for airfare to Venezuela. Oh, and David Virello—the PC misfit who fled to Canada? I know you’re living in the Bay Area now, but I’ve lost your address. Please get in touch. I need all the allies I can find. Perhaps if we join forces, it’s not too late to make this world a better place!

-Richard Menzies